H.A. Scott Trask, American Renaissance, December 2009
Bryan Sykes, Saxons, Vikings, Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland, W.W. Norton, 2006, 364 pp.
Heretofore, our knowledge of the ancient migrations of peoples has been based on myth, the accounts of ancient historians, and archaeology. That was never much to go on, and an age of rationality has rejected all but the last. Science has now provided us with a new window into the pre-historic past — DNA — and it shows that ancient myths are not altogether fanciful, and that the musings of ancient historians about what happened before their time are often close to what really did happen.
From extensive sampling of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) — which is passed on essentially intact from mother to daughter — we now know that 95 percent of native, white Europeans belong to one of seven maternal clans, all but one of which originated in Europe. Bryan Sykes, professor of molecular biology at Oxford University, described these clans in his 2001 bestseller, The Seven Daughters of Eve. The oldest, which he named Ursula, is 45,000 years old, and originated in Greece. Other maternal clans came from the Caucasus mountains and Spain, and two originated in northern Italy. The group Professor Sykes named Helena is 20,000 years old and came from the South of France — nearly 47 percent of Europeans are descended from her group. The youngest maternal clan, named Jasmine, is the only one with a non-European origin. It is about 10,000 years old and can be traced to northern Syria.
In his most recent book, Professor Sykes focuses on his own country of Britain, as well as Ireland, and his conclusions are striking. Long-held notions about the origins of the peoples of the British and Gaelic Isles will have to be considerably revised, but not thrown out. Although a scientist and geneticist, Prof. Sykes has great respect for historical myths because he has frequently found that the science of genes often backs them up, and finds them “closer to the genetic conclusions than the often ambiguous evidence of archaeology.”
Prof. Syke’s research began in 1996 as part of the Oxford Genetic Atlas Project, which he directed. With the help of assistants, he travelled over 80,000 miles and collected some 10,000 DNA samples. He was also able to draw on 25,000 genetic samples from customers of his company, Oxford Ancestors, 6,000 more received by mail from volunteers across the Isles, and nearly another 9,000 from colleagues doing similar work. His results were published in England in 2006 under the title, Blood of the Isles. The book has been given a new title for the American market, and it is unclear if the change was for marketing purposes, or because of political correctness.
Prof. Sykes found that on their maternal side, most Britons are Celts, and their maternal ancestors have been living on the island from 8,000 to 10,000 years. “We are an ancient people,” he writes, and “the matrilineal history of the Isles is . . . continuous.” Later invaders (Anglo-Saxon, Norse/Danish) have left a genetic imprint, but not nearly enough to displace what Prof. Sykes calls the island’s core “Celtic/Pictish stock.” (The Picts were the earliest known inhabitants of Scotland, or Caledonia as the Romans called it.) This means the Saxons and Norsemen did not exterminate or drive out the native Britons, as was once thought, but moved in among them and intermarried. The Saxons brought some women with them to such areas as East Anglia, and the Norsemen brought women to the Scottish Isles, but the maternal ancestry of Britons is overwhelmingly Celtic.
There were movements in the opposite direction. It has long been believed that the Norse who settled Iceland brought with them Gaelic/Celtic women from Ireland and Scotland, as well as a number of men. The DNA confirms this. Two-thirds of Icelandic women have Celtic genes, as do one third of the men. The Icelanders are therefore a Celto-Nordic people.
According to myth, the Celtic tribes migrated en masse to Britain and Ireland several hundred years before the Roman invasion, but Prof. Sykes finds no genetic evidence for this. The Celtic-speaking Britons were descended from the original settlers who moved north about 10,000 years ago, when Britain was still connected to the continent, as the glaciers retreated and temperatures moderated at the end of the last Ice Age.
The native or non-Germanic DNA of Scotland is not dissimilar to that found in Ireland, Wales, or Cornwall. Thus, both linguistics and genetics agree that the Picts of ancient Caledonia were not a separate people from the Britons to the south, or the Gaels to the west, and were thus a kindred people to the Celts. They might, moreover, have been the first people to arrive in Britain. Thus, the builders of Stonehenge and other magnificent megalithic structures, such as the Callanish Standing Stones and the stone village of Skara Brae on Orkney, could only have been the ancestors of the Picts, and not some mysterious people who vanished long-ago, as was once thought. The Celts appear to have been the original inhabitants of Western and Central Europe.
Germans who invaded Britain in the sixth and seventh centuries were Angles, Saxons, or Jutes. The Vikings who invaded three centuries later were either Norwegian or Danish. The genes of these invading tribes are so similar that Prof. Sykes cannot tell them apart, but he can distinguish them from the native Celts. Here again, both linguistic and genetic evidence agree: the kindred Celtic and Germanic peoples separated tens of thousands of years ago, and moved to Europe in two separate waves, with the Celts arriving in Britain some nine to ten thousand years before the Germanic people.
Prof. Sykes finds Scandinavian/Germanic male DNA to be highest in the islands to the north and west of Scotland, where it accounts for 42 percent of the DNA in the Shetlands, 37 percent in the Orkneys, 29 percent in the Hebrides, and 24 percent in Scotland overall. It is 20 percent of the DNA in the east of England (the Saxon/Danish kingdom of East Anglia), 10 percent in the south (the old Saxon kingdom of Wessex), and 15 percent overall north of the Danelaw (the ninth-century line separating Danish-ruled from Saxon-controlled England, which ran roughly from London to Liverpool). Not surprisingly, as Wales remained outside the areas of Saxon or Danish rule for centuries, little Germanic DNA is found there.
It is possible to find in Prof. Sykes’ data tables evidence for a somewhat higher Germanic/Scandinavian male genetic imprint, rising to 32 percent in the Viking north, 33 percent in East Anglia, 39 percent in the Saxon/Norman south, as low as 12 percent in Wales, and up to 17 percent in southwestern England. Thus, the long-held belief, or as some would say, myth, that the English were Germanic, the North English Scandinavian, and the Welsh and Cornish Celtic, even if exaggerated, appears to be grounded in fact.
Like mitochondrial DNA in women, the Y chromosome is passed essentially unchanged from father to son and has been traced back to paternal clans. One given the name Oisin is clearly Celtic. The Oisin Y is found everywhere in the Isles, but its highest concentrations are in areas where there was little German or Viking settlement. In the west of Ireland, it is found in over 95 percent of men and in Wales in 83 percent. In Anglo-Saxon/Danish East Anglia only 51 percent of males have it. Prof. Sykes’ sampling in Norway indicates that 44 percent of men are descended from the Wodan clan, and 22 percent are Sigurds. These are the second and third most numerous male clans in Britain, and are most common north of the Danelaw and in the Viking-settled areas of Scotland.
Although Romans occupied the southern two thirds of Britain for nearly 400 years, Prof. Sykes notes that “true Roman genes are very rare in the Isles,” and those few are scattered across the southern third of the island. That means there could not have been a significant movement of Roman settlers to Brittania, and also that the occupying Roman legionnaires must have been predominantly Celtic and Germanic recruits from north of the Alps. After the early first century AD, Roman legions were increasingly filled with non-Italians.
Finally, what of the Norman Conquest? Prof. Sykes cannot determine their genetic contribution because the French-speaking Normans were actually Viking in ethnic origin, making them genetically indistinguishable from the Saxons and Danes.
If all this is true, how does one explain the presence of black hair and brown eyes in the Isles? These traits are not Celtic or Germanic, but have long been present. In the last century, John Beddoe, a Bristol physician and ethnologist, travelled the length and breadth of the British Isles, recording the physical characteristics of the inhabitants. All together he made 43,000 detailed observations in 472 different locations. He found that dark hair and brown eyes were fairly common in western Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, and to a lesser extent the Scottish Hebrides, but very uncommon everywhere else. His book was titled The Races of Britain(1885).
There is an ancient Irish myth that their island was first settled by a people from Spain, and an English/Welsh myth that Brutus led a band of Trojans from Italy to Britain. Prof. Sykes found that there may be a core of truth to both these myths. He was able to trace the movements of the Jasmines (the youngest of the Seven Daughters and presumably dark haired because of their Near Eastern origin) along the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea to Spain and thence to Ireland and the western reaches of Britain about 6,000 years ago. Another branch of the same clan moved across the central valleys of Europe to Britain. Today Jasmines make up about 13 percent of the mitochondrial DNA in Scotland, 12 percent in England, and 9 percent in Wales. Surprisingly, Prof. Sykes does not tell us the percentage for Ireland.
One of the northern Italian maternal clans, the Tarans, also arrived about 6,000 years ago, and this could be the source of the myth of Brutus. Prof. Sykes believes these two clans introduced farming into the Isles.
The Jasmines were not Semites, but would have been ethnically similar to the ancient Iberians of Spain — Penelope Cruz might be a particularly fetching example — and the Pelasgians of ancient Athens. Prof. Sykes finds no archaeological evidence for armed invasion, and believes their relations with the Gaels, Picts, and Britons was cooperative. And yet, if that were so, it is odd that there is no Jasmine male DNA present in Britain today. Could the Celts have made war on the Jasmines and spared only the women?
In any case, the arrival by sea of the Mediterranean Jasmines would account not only for the presence of black hair among an otherwise Celtic and Germanic people, but would also explain the heretofore unanswered question of why Druids were found only among the Celts of Britain and Gaul and not among the Celts of other parts of Europe. The French classicist Simone Weil believed that the Druidic religion was of Iberian origin. If that is true, the arrival of the Jasmines could explain how it got to Britain.
We hear it said constantly — not as an argument requiring evidence but as a dogmatic assertion requiring mental submission — that racial/cultural/religious diversity is the source of all things good: art and science, creativity and energy, wealth and power. Britain might seem to offer historical corroboration for this multicultural myth. After all, there you have Celts, Germans, Vikings, Romans, and the Jasmines mixing it up on an island and eventually coming to rule much of the world. The modern Britons excelled in practically everything: politics, war, economics, science, literature, music. Surely that was due to their diversity. And surely the migration in large numbers of South Asians, East Asians, Sub-Saharan Africans, North Africans, Arabs, etcetera will mean Britain will soon rise again to her former greatness.
Of course, there is no historical or contemporary evidence that the kind of extreme diversity that now characterizes the United States, and that Britain is now approaching is the source of anything other than chaos, tension, and even civil war. What British history shows is that diversity is beneficial — if it is beneficial at all — only when it is subsumed in a larger unity. The Celts and Germans were themselves kindred races (fair haired, light complexioned, and European), and their union in what is now England was more of a re-union. The only exotic element, the Mediterranean Jasmines, were still Caucasian, and today their genes are found in only about 12 percent of Britons. Also, even this modest amount of diversity was a source of perennial warfare between England and her more Celtic borderlands, and only after centuries of no new migrations or invasions did the mixture finally produce the glories of the British Empire and its accompanying cultural achievements. It is unity that is our strength. Blind faith in the contrary is itself evidence of our decline.